Director's update: Spring 2015

The Chameleons of Public Health: Shifting Priorities at a Moment’s Notice


Events of the last six months have me thinking about old world lizards, particularly the types of chameleon that can change color as a means of communication or camouflage. These wonderful creatures show a natural ability to adapt to their surroundings and experiences. Although not as visually stunning, staff in AHC Office of Emergency Response, and our campus partners, have had the opportunity recently to demonstrate our adaptation skills responding to Ebola, the first measles case on campus in recent memory, and press accounts of terrorism concerns at a local mall. This work has unique challenges and also highlights some important realities about public health:

We must be ready and willing to respond to the unexpected.
Although annual, monthly, weekly, and daily work plans are important, we must have the willingness and ability to throw them out of the window when needed. This work requires a high level of flexibility and creativity. It also requires a commitment to serving the community when needed, including evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Interdisciplinary teams are as important in public health as they are in medicine.
Whether serving the needs of an individual patient or an entire community, diverse perspectives and experiences are important. Much of our department's work is done behind the scenes. We are extremely fortunate to coordinate a team of colleagues from across the campus. In addition to public health, our team includes partners from human resources, environmental health, housing, health sciences, international travel and students, public safety, communications, and emergency management.

What's Next Highway Sign

Fear and misinformation among our family, friends, and neighbors is a topic we all should address.
Although the real tragedy of this most recent Ebola outbreak in Africa was centered in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone; the outbreak had a significant impact nationally and locally. Much of the work to be done here was (and is) related to calming unwarranted fears about disease transmission. For those of us with careers dating back to the early days of AIDS; the questions, concerns, and media coverage felt extremely familiar. Misinformation has also played an important role in the recent unprecedented rise in measles cases in this country as more and more families have opted not to vaccinate their children. I’ll touch more on that topic in my next Director’s column.

I’d like to close this column by offering my heartfelt thanks to those “behind the scenes” colleagues who have worked so diligently these past several months. Now let’s dig out our old workplans again (at least until the next public health concern comes our way)!

Jill DeBoer, Director
Academic Health Center Office of Emergency Response
[email protected]

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